I think it’s safe to say that nobody’s been watching the most recent Godzilla movies for their stunning human characters. No, we’re all just there for the cool world-building and the big Kaiju vs Kaiju action scenes. But imagine a book that combines cool world-building, bombastic action scenes, and compelling characters, and you might end up with something like John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society. Featuring a breezy plot, well-rounded characters, and blockbuster-worthy thrills, The Kaiju Preservation Society is as good as the best Kaiju movies. A fun read from start to finish, The Kaiju Preservation Society might just be the pick-me-up we all need right now.
NOTE: I received a review copy of The Kaiju Preservation Society from Macmillan/Tor and NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
It’s March 2020, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Jamie Gray’s stuck working as a food delivery driver. Jamie lives from paycheck to paycheck, month after month, just trying to make ends meet. But when an old college acquaintance offers the job of a lifetime, Jamie gets drawn into something straight out of a sci-fi film. An alternate Earth full of giant Kaiju and secret organizations dedicated to protecting them. But not all who visit “Kaiju Earth” do so for altruistic reasons, as Jamie and the other new recruits soon learn. And so it’s a race against time as the Kaiju Preservation Society tries to live up to its name while also – if they’re lucky – saving the world. Despite its potentially bleak setting, The Kaiju Preservation Society reads like the book equivalent of a big, fun action-adventure movie from beginning to end.
The book’s not all that interested in exploring the societal ramifications of a multi-year-long pandemic or the ethics of taking care of giant, nuclear, potentially destructive monsters who could accidentally slip into our world at a moment’s notice. Instead, it’s more of a B-movie-style romp through various Kaiju tropes. Overall, it’s far less plot-driven than you might expect and ends up taking readers on a leisurely stroll through a fun world with some engaging characters. Now, I wouldn’t say most of the characters are depicted with any real depth – save for Jamie, who narrates the story. But Scalzi does a good enough job of making each of the supporting characters feel distinct that it’s pretty easy to overlook how similar they sound. And they’re likable enough that you enjoy spending time with them as much as you enjoy all of the cool monsters.
Plot-wise, most of the book acts as the setup for a climax that feels a bit rushed. But whether or not that’s a problem largely depends on what you’re looking for. If you’ve ever watched a Godzilla movie and wished they’d spend less time on dueling Kajus and more time exploring the science behind them, then this is the book for you. Here, Scalzi imagines a world where Kaiju are – quite literally – sources of nuclear energy. And naturally, most of the scientists investigating them are trying to figure out how the Kaiju’s biology works while also trying to keep them safe (and secret!) from a public that would revile them at best and take advantage of them at worst. So, on that level, it’s a fascinating read. And the science is cool without being incomprehensible. But if you’re looking for lots of action, you might be left disappointed.
It takes nearly two-thirds of the book for the central conflict to become apparent. Instead, Scalzi spends most of that time establishing the world and the characters. While all of that is very fun, it does greatly hinder the novel’s ability to build real stakes. And because of that, it feels like the book races through a bunch of stuff in its final third when spreading out some of those revelations and setpieces might’ve given them more weight. Now to be fair, once that central conflict kicks in, it quickly becomes apparent how well Scalzi’s laid the groundwork. Nothing that happens is particularly surprising but is, instead, delightfully predictable. Everything comes together in a very cohesive, satisfying way. Plus, it always helps to have an antagonist that’s so unlikable you’re hoping they’ll suffer a Kaiju-related mishap. But you’ll get no further spoilers from me.
At the end of the day, The Kaiju Preservation Society is a fun, escapist romp in the best way possible. The world is immediately captivating, the characters are engaging, and the plot’s as compelling as some of the best kaiju movies’. But it’s the book’s lighthearted tone that stands out the most. Despite a potentially bleak setting, there’s never a moment that’s not absolutely fun. Each chapter keeps you engaged in the story as you speed from moment to moment, just enjoying the ride and taking in the world. In the author’s note, Scalzi likens the experience of reading the book to that of listening to a good pop song. And he’s absolutely right. It’s light and breezy, with a hook and a good build-up and a big, climactic crescendo that brings it all home. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Kaiju movie, you’ll adore The Kaiju Preservation Society.
4 out of 5 wands.
This review also ran on Geek Vibes Nation.